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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       269
lieutenant-colonel who had welcomed him so coldly when
he arrived.
Knowing that he was being closely watched from the
ground and that his fate was about to be decided, Alexei
excelled himself that day. He handled that tiny, light
plane so expertly that the lieutenant-colonel could not
restrain outbursts of admiration. When Meresyev alighted
from the plane and presented himself to the chief, he could
tell from the joy and excitement that beamed from every
wrinkle on Naumov's face that he had passed the test.
"You have an excellent style! Yes are what I
call an airman by the grace of God," growled the lieuten-
ant-colonel. "Listen, would you like to remain here as
an instructor? We need men like you."
Meresyev emphatically refused.
"Well, you're a fool! Anybody can fight, but here
you'd be teaching men to fly."
Suddenly the lieutenant-colonel's eye caught the walk-
ing-stick that Meresyev was leaning on, and his face
turned livid.
"You've got that thing again!" he roared, "Give it to
me! Do you think you are going on a picnic with a cane?
You're not on a boulevard----Forty-eight hours in the
guardroom for disobeying orders!... Aces! Getting them-
selves mascots! You'll be painting the ace of diamonds on
your fuselage next! Forty-eight hours! D'you hear what
I say?"
The lieutenant-colonel tore the stick out of Meresyev's
hand and glared round, looking for something to break it
"Permit me to say, Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel. He
has no feet," intervened Instructor Naumov.
The Chief of Staff's face went more livid; his eyes
bulged and he breathed heavily.
"What do you mean? Are you trying to make a fool of
me? Is it true what the instructor just said?"
Meresyev nodded and glanced furtively at his precious
stick, which was in imminent danger of destruction. In-
deed, he was now never separated from the gift of Vasily
The lieutenant-colonel looked suspiciously at the
friends and drawled: